Three years ago, the lives of then 14-year-old Gwen Cinquemani and her family were rocked by a life-threatening medical diagnosis.
The teen was found to have Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a rare blood disorder that often leads to leukemia.
“I was very healthy. I was active, always doing something, so the diagnosis was kind a halt to everything I was doing,” said Gwen, a cheerleader in her hometown of New Rochelle, New York.
After the diagnosis, Gwen and her family went through a year of regular hospital visits, blood tests, and platelet counts.
“There’s really nothing worse than a sick child, your child,” said Tiffany Cinquemani, Gwen’s mother. “It was earth-shattering… a really difficult road.”
Doctors said the teen needed a bone marrow transplant. Gwen is a triplet, but tests revealed that neither of her brothers was a match.
Unfortunately, Gwen’s case isn’t unique. Seventy percent of patients requiring a transplant don’t have a fully matched donor in their family.
Without a healthy bone marrow transplant, Gwen might not live to see her next birthday.
“It just was so unknown. I didn’t really know what was gonna happen or what was going on or what would happen in the future and I think that’s what scared me the most,” she said.
But Gwen wouldn’t be left fearing for long. A thousand miles away in Minneapolis, a high school teacher named Haven Davis signed up as a donor for “Be the Match,” a bone marrow registry.
Haven, 35, first heard about the organization on a Radio Lab episode, a podcast. The topic was about someone whose donation saved a life, and the story inspired her to take action.
Haven said it seemed like a “simple and easy thing to do,” so she did it.
“Most people experience few side effects. It just seemed like a no-brainer to me,” she said. “It was really not a hard decision.”
When Haven signed up, the registry revealed she was a match for Gwen.
“It’s a 14-year-old girl, OK, I’m in,” Haven recalled. “There were no other questions after that point.”
Haven’s bone marrow was harvested for Gwen in 2018, and the succeeding transplant was a success.
Gwen recovered from MDS and is now healthy and strong, thanks to a stranger who saved her life.
On April 7, the long-awaited meeting finally happened for the pair during a Be The Match gala held in lower Manhattan. Gwen, now 17, was onstage when organizers called Haven to join her.
Haven and Gwen had communicated online but had never met in person. So when the moment came, the two wasted no time sharing a hug in front of an emotional audience. Gwen’s parents hugged Haven as well.
“For me, it was really exciting,” Gwen said of seeing her donor in the flesh. “I didn’t know this was how I was going to meet Haven, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.”
“I don’t really know how words could express what me and my family feel but obviously we’d say thank you but I don’t think that says enough,” she added.
To Haven, it was an unforgettable moment she will cherish for the rest of her life.
“Just knowing that she as so young when she received the donation, to hear about how her life has blossomed and to hear about her growing up and becoming the beautiful, young woman that she is, is pretty mind blowing,” she said.
Tiffany is grateful to Haven for making the selfless decision of donating her bone marrow.
“She absolutely saved my daughter’s life,” she said. “Without her I don’t know where we’d be today.”
Haven and Gwen hope their story encourages other people to consider donating. Visit Be The Match to learn how you can sign up as a donor or support the cause.
Check out the video below to learn more about how these strangers became bonded for life.
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